The swather started right up.
The baler was ready to go.
I looked out across the hay field. It loomed, enormous.
It would take a lot of diesel, grease and good luck to cut all of that hay into stacks of round bales.
It wouldn’t make enough, but it would give me a good start.
My brother, Roger, would bale if I could lay down the 21-foot swaths.
The swather purred around two outside rows of the first field.
Then a sharp bang jolted my crossed fingers.
The sickle bar overlapped itself in the middle.
It wasn’t supposed to look like that.
Roger and I started loosening nuts, hoping we could pull the cutter loose, my mind racing through the pile of extra parts laying around the shop and hay lot, wondering if I had an extra sickle bar.
So we hooked up the 28-foot flatbed trailer, took the cutter bar to my favorite machinist and joined the party of other farmers with broken machinery.
Misery loves company.
We complained and worried and solved the world’s problems while the machinist implied we were all incompetent and fixed our breakdowns so they worked better than when they were new.
Roger and I reinstalled the sickle bar and it has worked ever since.
The weather heated up, heightening the need to get that hay in the bale before it turned to crispy powder.
We adjusted the delay between cutting the alfalfa and baling it.
We messed with the baler, too, even reading the operator’s manual for suggestions. We didn’t want the neighbors to know, though, so we stood back to back, watching both directions for trucks while we read.
And I started eliminating the other silly commitments I had made so I could spend hours in a row hypnotized by the spinning swather reel.
Then a wheel on the round baler fell off. A bearing went out and the whole baler hit the ground.
The machinist took a quick look.
“You didn’t even wreck it too bad this time, Lisa!” he said.
I think that is his version of a compliment, but I’m not sure.
While I wait for the parts to arrive, I drive by other hay fields. Finished bales dot the fields one day. Bales are stacked and the sprinklers are on again the next.
I know my neighbors are watching my uncut hay fields, too.
Then I remember the first summer I harvested hay.
A Utah rancher hired me to run the swather and small square baler because he broke four ribs when his horse flipped on top of him in the team roping box.
I didn’t get a lot of instruction.
A few mishaps with the swather gave me an effective education, but that wire-tie small square baler had me beat.
I watched six perfect bales pop out the back end and then two bales scatter on the ground, over and over.
Frustration mounted for both the broken-ribbed rancher who staggered out to exam the inscrutable knotter and the punk who did not know the difference between a plunger and a pickup reel.
We could hear the hay drying into powder as we tightened a bolt two turns or bent a threading arm into a different angle. Nothing seemed to work.
Finally, the rancher offered some solace.
“When you start haying, you better figure it will take you three times as long as you think it will because you will be broken down twice as long as you’ll be running,” he said.
I felt better then.
And I will feel better again, as soon as I get the wheel back on the baler.